The Beauty of Viola Davis

Viola. Davis. The first African American actress to earn three Oscar nominations in a lifetime. (Can we go ahead and say she is the black Merryl Streep — not to say that POC need to be analogous to Whites, but I mean Merryl Streep is goals, right?)

As a dark skinned black woman, Viola Davis embodies all the things as a girl I never really saw on TV: natural hair, curves, chocolate skin, and strength. This is not to say Golden Brooks or Jill Marie Jones on Girlfriends were not amazing women — it’s just that I was too young to appreciate Girlfriends.

I am only now realizing that Girlfriends was a show of professional black women that did things that were, and still are largely considered, white. In other words, it was groundbreaking. As a young girl at a predominately white school who spent every Sunday at a predominately black church with my parents professional black friends who lived in mansions, I never saw Girlfriends as progressive because I related to them, I talked like them — i.e. “white” — , and also I really didn’t grasp all the social issues that the show discussed because I was young and was not fully aware of my blackness.

I always loved being black, but I never really understood what it meant to “be black” until I came to college. Until I saw the faces of so many different people and realized that so many of them did not like me because of my skin color, my hair texture, and just who I was. I am from the South, so I have never been afraid of or unaware of racism. It just seemed as though college turned the mumbling sounds of racism that played in the background of my pubescent days to a loud cacophonous blaring that was unavoidable and un-ignorable. My life went from me being a girl who had black skin to me being a black woman. I suddenly became so acutely aware of my otherness and not just from my white colleagues, but also from my African, Caribbean, buppie, light skinned, “good haired,” and Hispanic classmates. Those four years of school simultaneously emboldened me by making me unapologetically me, but it also made me frighteningly aware of my social status — at the bottom wrung of the ladder. Therefore, seeing Viola Davis winning in a variety of roles and not just stereotypical roles, is so empowering.

Scandal was amazing because Olivia Pope, a black woman, was able to cripple the (white)President with her sexuality and his willingness to throw it all away for her. This is not something you usually something you see on TV, let alone on Primetime. But, for all the lusciousness that is Olivia Pope, she is not real and she is not really personal life goals — though professionally she it lit!

I have to admit I never truly fell in love with Viola Davis until I heard my then-fiance and other black men lust after her, explicating “damns” every time she walked across the screen on HTGAWM. (Yes, I am saying that I did not realize another woman’s beauty until a man validated it for me — I’m aware of the various ways in which the intersectional feminists will find that problematic — but get over it!) I always saw her as strong and beautiful, but realizing that other men value and saw that too was so important for me. As a black woman who never really felt beautiful by her male counterparts, it was amazing for me to see a woman in her natural hair and her wigs, with more cake than a bakery, with full lips, and who was confident and accomplished being loved by black men (and white men).

She has also spoke on her own journey to self-confidence, to which as you can see I can relate. That moment on HTGAWM when she took off her wig and her makeup and was sitting in the mirror in her natural beauty on PRIMETIME TV, my jaw dropped because it was as if she said told all the black girls like me, “It’s ok to be you.” That moment felt as though she threw up the middle finger to the establishment and to aesthetic respectability and said “This is me and my white husband sees it and wants it — and my white viewers will keep watching this because I know I’m that good.”

Also, the fact that she has played a myriad of diverse roles is an accomplishment. I have noticed that most renowned black actors and actresses do not receive mainstream recognition unless and until they play a stereotypical role — as a corrupt cop (Denzel Washington) or a nanny (Octavia Spencer). However, after a quick perusal of the cinematography of Davis, you will see she was nominated for Doubt, as an aggrieved mother, before she was nominated for The Help. Of course, she did not become a household name until after The Help.

All this to say, Viola Davis is pure greatness. And I thank her for being herself and being a shining example for others.